This is written in a moment of brave, faltering impulsiveness. Forgive how scatological it is, please. I wanted to wait and do this more eloquently, and in conjunction with an organization like the Ada Initiative, but I’ve put it off for so long. Many other women are speaking out, so the time seems to be right. Mine will just be the least polished.
In the fall of 2009 I started receiving Twitter @-replies from a well-known speaker and author from the web design community. He wasn’t commenting on my work, rather he was commenting on my attractiveness, particularly my avatar. He wanted me to put my phone number on my website, sent me provocative DMs once I started following him. This is someone I’d tended to dismiss as an ass hat because his book covers were always posed as if he was a member of The Smiths or Bad Seeds, with a stylish suit, slouch and cigarette. I thought that was ridiculous. What does that have to do with CSS and web design? I’m a huge fan of practicality and humility, anything else I treat with more suspicion. I followed him on and off, as his attitude was often arrogant and rude, too personal and lacking in professionalism, but occasionally I could overlook that for the few gems of useful info.
This attention came at a difficult time for me, personally. I was in a long-term violent relationship that I stayed in to protect my then-boyfriend’s daughter from his outbursts. He’d threatened both of us physically, been emotionally and mentally abusive for years. Her mother was mentally unstable and battling breast cancer. She died in 2007. I was busting my butt to take care of everyone, and put myself aside. All this while transitioning from print to web. 2007 was the start of my working nearly exclusively in web. By 2009, I was thoroughly weakened by all of it, since I’d dated him since 2000.
I knew little about this web celebrity. His attention excited me, made me feel special, like I mattered. I’m also a survivor of incest, rape and previous abusive relationships. Yes, yes, yes… I’ve had a LOT of therapy. I’ll work on all of it for the rest of my life. I had no idea he was married, that he’d had a very public mess, or that he’d done this before. I didn’t know many people in the web industry. I didn’t ask others either.
On Christmas Eve 2009 I received a phone call from what sounded like a weird leprechaun telling me they needed a website. The sound was so absurd that I knew it was this person. I laughed and we chatted. This started a series of DMs and Skype messages that became very flirtatious and then more serious. He invited me to a conference he was speaking at, and I did want to meet him, but I didn’t want to be seen as connected because I want to retain my own identity. I never want to attain success because of my association with someone, rather I prefer to earn it through my own achievements. I kept asking what his personal situation was and he kept avoiding answering. Finally I asked a friend about him and he introduced me to another web celebrity I was unfamiliar with. This person told me what to google, then once I found the big mess he divulged more, and I found out the man was indeed married. Once I knew I put an end to the flirtations, instead tried to help him work on his marriage.
Then, the man who divulged info and I became involved and the next few months of my life had some highs and nightmare lows, as it was an awkward time in each of our lives. Crazy drama events at SxSWi and other conferences. At SxSWi I found the initial web celebrity had a very long history of this sort of thing, some particular conditions, had bullied another female designer/developer who refused him, then bad-mouthed her in the industry. Ah, that was what I had to look forward to. After talking with people at SxSWi I discussed my findings with him, expressed my concern, encouraged him to seek help, and he said he would. Instead, I found out that he then bad-mouthed me to other well-known folks. I did let the main conference organizers know what had happened, expressed my concerns. I had certain well-known authors who used to speak with me about CSS suddenly flake out, repeatedly.
I kept quiet because I was afraid things would get even worse. There were a few people in the industry I feared would lash out at me if I spoke up. He promised he was going to be a good husband and father. Then, a friend told me what they saw at a conference in May of 2010. He clearly wasn’t going to focus on his marriage. That lead to a couple of years with that woman gaining much celebrity (update: not just that one, see the books for successes and other bully victims). Then that ended, too, and friends told me how that went, that he was definitely not going to do that anymore. A few months ago I heard there have been two more, and one of them was also suicidal.
I’ve wanted to speak out, wanted to warn other women in our industry about the speakers and authors. We have to watch out for them even more than we do our male counterparts in the industry. They are in a position of power, and, with that, comes responsibility. I nearly quit. Hell, I nearly quit Life. It felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, and all I ever would ever be is a sex object. I’m not into casual sex. I’m not looking for romance. Sometimes, sure, it happens. But to be pursued so aggressively and deceptively, to be flattered and lured with special favors, to experience professional blacklisting from refusing those invitations, well… I’m also a musician. I’ve seen a lot of inappropriate behaviour. Nothing in music compared to the s@#% I’ve seen in the web community.
Nowadays, I focus on what I used to. Good work. Always learning. Compassion, kindness, and integrity. Yes, I’m human. I make mistakes. When you’re honest, people will cheat you. Be honest anyway. I can live with myself, as I’ve chosen the honest road.
For the record, I’m also mixed-race, and it sucks to be in a sea of Caucasian, see nothing but Caucasian on stages and book jackets, knowing that my relations and the young minority kids I know are getting the message that they can’t be more than the roles they see other minorities in. This is why I think pushing for more diversity in speakers and authors is important. We have to start the cow paths for the world. The paved paths are for the privileged.
2013-02-10 One small addition: This is not about adultery. Adultery is a decision made between consenting partners, and that’s a grey area for many. When one person chooses to say no, out of respect for vows, they should be allowed to do so with no repercussions. When the person being rejected is in a position of power and uses that power to bully and coerce the other, or punish them for rejecting them, that is a problem. That’s what happened to me and at least two others. I spoke up with hope the person I once cared for as a friend (enough to turn away advances and suggest help for his vows) might own up, stop his bullying ways, and protect the hard-working people in our web community. Why else would I speak up? Would YOU want this kind of attention? I am not a crazy woman or a badger. Sheesh.